LDS blogger battles bipolar disorder by traveling the country, befriending strangers

By Ryan McDonald

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 27 2013 1:00 p.m. MST

A short time later, Thompson began dating a young man. By summertime, the two were engaged to be married, but disappointment struck again as the engagement fell through. Thompson said she holds no ill feelings about the situation, but it was discouraging. She felt she had done all she could to be a worthy spouse and mother, but it didn't happen.

"Nothing worked out," she said of having to quit school, not being able to serve a full-time mission and not getting married. "I was doing my best to do the will of the Lord and everything kept failing. It was so frustrating."

Feeling as though she were back at square one, Thompson decided to take a road trip. She enjoys driving and was only planning on being gone a short time. But a few days into her journey, her mother felt impressed to suggest that she continue her trip. Lisa Thompson said she felt an assurance that her daughter would be watched over and protected.

Over the next two months, Josie Thompson drove around the western United States, visited family and enjoyed her surroundings. While traveling, she decided it was time to write about her experiences dealing with mental illness. As a blogger, she had alluded to her challenges before but had been embarrassed to write about them in depth.

She wrote a blog post in which she was blunt about her condition. Thompson read it to her mother before making it public. Realizing that the honest nature of the post didn't put her in the most positive light, the two discussed whether Thompson should publish it.

Ultimately, she made the decision to do so, and the response was huge. Thompson received hundreds of emails, from people she knew and from strangers. Many shared struggles of their own or challenges of people close to them.

"That's when I really began to understand how prevalent mental illness was," Thompson said.

Thompson decided she wanted to use her experiences to help others. In addition to driving and traveling, she also enjoys talking to people and writing. Soon, an idea was born.

The 444 Project

The 444 Project was created in reference to Thompson's family scripture, Alma 44:4, which had become a source of strength to her during her trials.

Now ye see that this is the true faith of God; yea, ye see that God will support, and keep, and preserve us, so long as we are faithful unto him, and unto our faith, and our religion; and never will the Lord suffer that we shall be destroyed except we should fall into transgression and deny our faith.

Thompson decided she would travel around the country seeking 444 responses to the question "What gets you out of bed each day?"

In the midst of preparations that summer, Thompson began to see a different doctor, who immediately diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. Thompson calls the diagnosis a "game-changer," because it provided an explanation for why none of the treatments she had received for depression had been effective.

Desiring to leave in late March 2013, Thompson hit the road March 28. She hadn't meant to leave on that date for any particular reason, but it was the one-year anniversary of when she would have entered the MTC.

For more than three months, Thompson lived out of her 1998 Saturn. She initially headed to the Southeast because she wanted to go to a place where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t have as much of a presence as it does in the West.

Discouragement came as she traveled through more than 30 states. Her condition followed her “like a bad cold," and there were days when she couldn’t even get out of her car. But good times compensated for the lingering challenges.

“After doing (the project), I can do anything,” she said. “If I have to face another demonizing day, it would be equally difficult, but I would have a little bit more of an upper hand. I’d be a little bit stronger because I did something hard.”

Her mother recalled times when Thompson would call and cry to her while she was gone, but she admired how her daughter wanted to help others.

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